A hero gets his wings: Starkville WWII veteran made honorary Tuskegee Airman

Starkville resident Roosevelt Taylor was made an honorary Tuskegee Airman for his Army service during World War II. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

Starkville native Roosevelt Taylor fought in World War II in 1942 and was honored for that service more than seven decades later.

Earlier this month, the 93-year-old Taylor was made an honorary Tuskegee Airman for his service to the nation.

Taylor received a letter earlier in February from Erma Bonner Platte, the wife of the late Captain Claude Platte, giving him an honorary membership in the Claude R. Platte DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) Chapter Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. on behalf of her late husband. Along with the letter, he was given Platte’s cummerbund and red bow tie along with a shirt with the chapter’s logo.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both at home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 2,100 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with 15,500 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

According to Platte’s letter, the highly publicized success of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the integration of the armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948.

Taylor is one of four brothers, all of which served in World War II — two in the Army and two in the Navy.

“This past fall, your niece, Inez Taylor Clark, told me how proud she is of the fact that her uncles, including you and her father voluntarily served in the military during World War II,” the letter from Platte read. “Growing up in Mississippi, a bastion of racial disparity and discrimination against men and women of color, nevertheless, the Taylor brothers risked their own lives and limbs to preserve the country’s safety and freedom. And consider this, after the war, your brother and other men of color returned home to an ungrateful and hostile Nation that did not appreciate nor reward them for the many sacrifices that they made in order that all white and black alike, could enjoy the freedoms of this great Nation.”

Taylor said he wanted to join the armed forces so he could fight for his country.

“My father has always wanted to serve his country, and he’s a warrior,” Taylor’s daughter Diane Singleton said. “Fighting in a global war gave him the opportunity to show his patriotism.”

He joined the war in 1942, and his duties included digging foxholes and driving trucks carrying prisoners of war. Taylor said he and others carried weapons, but were given no ammunition.

“Most blacks soldiers in WWII served in the kitchen or worked hard labor, and so when the Tuskegee Airmen came along, that was a new phase that he was proud to be associated with,” Singleton said.

Taylor said he was injured in France, and after some time in a French hospital, he returned home to Starkville.

Despite the ongoing civil rights issues of the time, Taylor was able to lead a successful life in Starkville and provide for his family.

Taylor managed a cab company and owned a shoe shining parlor in downtown Starkville.

“When he got out, my father had a dream that all of his kids would go to college, and he was able to live that dream out,” Singleton said. “He worked hard to make that happen.”

When asked how it felt to be honored by the Tuskegee Airmen, Taylor replied, “It felt good, and I’m honored to be recognized.” Singleton said her entire family was equally proud of her father’s recognition and he and his brothers’ service to their country.

“We’re all just elated,” Singleton said. “We are honored for him, and for him to be bestowed such an honor in this way is just amazing. He’s 93 years old, and so it’s never too late to be given something of this magnitude.”